(Siobhan Duck) The Australian Medical Association is calling for age-restrictions on the drinks, after a worrying rise in the number of teenagers becoming ill.
But a group representing the energy drink industry has dismissed calls for greater regulation of the beverages, saying they are no more dangerous than coffee.
They say teens who were being admitted to emergency rooms after overdosing on energy drinks amounted to just “0.00001 per cent of the population”.
The poisons hotline has received a four-fold increase in calls relating to the high-sugar drinks.
Experts say teenagers are being “poisoned” by the drinks and suffering hallucinations, seizures and cardiac problems.
Energy drinks could poison your brain.
Research by the Poisons Information Centre shows the average age of those becoming ill is 17, but youths as young as 15 have also overdosed.
AMA Victoria vice-president Dr Stephen Parnis said people did not realise the serious health repercussions of energy drinks – some of which had the same amount of caffeine as 10 or 20 cups of coffee.
“Warning labels would be the very bare minimum that should be done,” he said.
“I would think that preventing sales of these drinks to people under 18 is something that we need to look at very seriously.
“Poisoning is not too strong a word to use for the effects of these drinks on some people.
“I have seen teenagers present in emergency with heart rates of 200 beats per minute or so stimulated that their behaviour is extremely distressing to their parents and the people around them.”
But the Australian Beverages Council dismissed calls for greater regulation, saying energy drinks in Australia were already the most heavily regulated in the world.
“Personal responsibility needs to be considered and trying to regulate against the lack of a common sense or over-consumption of a perfectly safe product by 0.00001 per cent of the population isn’t a position supported by the industry,” council Chief Executive Geoff Parker said in a statement.
Mr Parker said consumers already had adequate information because the drinks were already labelled as carrying caffeine.
The amount of caffeine in Australian energy drinks was comparable to that in “a common cup of coffee”, he said.
“If indeed caffeine over-consumption is the concern of the researchers then the proposed review of labelling and sale provisions should be extended for all cups of coffee, pots of tea and all chocolate bars.”
Dr Parnis said some teens had an energy drink as a substitute for a bowl of cereal for breakfast, and others used them as a stimulant for study sessions.
Victorian Poisons Information Centre spokesman Jess Robinson said the number of calls it had received about energy drink poisoning had grown from 12 in 2004 to 46 in 2011.
He said symptoms of an overdose included vomiting, diarrhoea, being hyped up and agitated.
Mr Robinson said the brands that had caused the most problems in young people had been Mother, Red Bull, V, Wicked Energy Drink and Xocai.
He said some young people could be using the drinks to get high or a buzz.
“Particularly in adolescents it’s hard to tell if they’re deliberately trying to get hyped up or if it’s an accident,” he said.
He agreed the cans should have health warnings.